The Newbie Blog: part 1 - Early Days

New volunteer Trevor shares his experience of joining New Bridge!

"I have accepted an invitation to start a blog from my perspective as a new befriender.  I have been involved in creative writing groups in recent years, but this is my first formal attempt at a blog. I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with you as I grow into the role with New Bridge. Hopefully I will discover some kindred spirits, striking a chord with my hopes, fears, challenges and questions in what promises to be an interesting journey. The old heads amongst you may well be reminded of their early years offering valuable guidance along the way!

A little about me as background, to start. I am 69 and retired from my 38-year banking career in 2014. I am an active volunteer with roles including: parish councillor, community bus driver, Chair of Residents Association and Allotments Association, and Director of our Estate Property Management Company. I keep active through playing tennis, pickleball, cricket and going to the gym. My wife and I are also keen gardeners and travellers. We have two dogs: a Border Collie and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. We live in The Midlands.

My interest in New Bridge originated following research I was undertaking for a novel I am attempting to write around prison life. I discovered the late Erwin James after reading his obituary, which then led me to his memoir ‘Redeemable’.  This is a real page turner which I completed in five days. This is remarkable given my bad habit of having five to six books on the go at once, based at various locations around my home. This is a constant source of friction between myself and my wife. My books and clothes occupy a high percentage area of our available space after downsizing! I now resort to smuggling in these items, often intercepting the Amazon delivery driver before they reach the front door.

Erwin James was an inspirational former offender and an editor of ‘Inside Time’, the National Newspaper for Prisoners and Detainees.This publication has been indispensable in helping me understand the conditions that prisoners are held in currently. Prisoner letters and articles are often unrelenting and poignant. Much of my time, at this stage, is spent on other background reading. My recommendations include: ‘The Life Inside’ by Andy West, ‘A Bit of a Stretch’ and ‘Time after Time’ by Chris Atkins, ‘The Grass Arena’ by John Healy. I am also getting to grips with criminology and criminal psychology. Tim Newburn’s 1100 page ‘Criminology” (third edition) is comprehensive and readable. I dived straight into chapter 23 ‘Penology and punishment’. My OU Philosophy degree is helpful on the ethics and morality aspects of prison. Newburn’s renowned book is also the heaviest by weight I have ever received via Amazon, something not easily hidden from my wife!

I applied to New Bridge on 1st February 2024. The process was smooth and prompt. I got a response next day and was subsequently interviewed via Zoom on 9 February. My interviewer was very informative and personable.  He was very open and honest on what befrienders might expect. For example, the high percentage of sex offenders which we support is clearly something that has to be disclosed at this early stage.  I had prepared a few questions including: the ages and experiences of existing befrienders, prison locations and travelling logistics, length and content of prisoner correspondence, the nature of prisoner/befriender relationships, boundaries, general guidelines. This was expanded upon in the subsequent excellent one-day training session I attended in Brixton.

This face-to-face interactive training took place on 16 March. I joined a small group of fellow newbies, consisting of a criminology graduate and an undergraduate, and two fellow retirees/volunteers. The day was full of great content including various excellent guest speakers: an established befriender, an ex-prisoner, and a retired career prison governor, (now a global authority on prison reform). The afternoon session on first letters and prisoner befriender application forms was particularly valuable.

After successfully completing the training, the next stage was selecting a support group. I wanted the flexibility of face to face and zoom meetings so chose a hybrid group chaired by an experienced volunteer. Our group is eleven strong, formed mainly of experienced volunteers with a couple or so newer ones. My two journeys to Brixton so far bring back happy memories from younger days. My wife and worked in central London and when living in Forest Hill, Dulwich and Bromley, we sometimes travelled home on the night bus after socialising, passing through a still lively Brixton. For New Bridge, arriving diligently early in the morning for the first day, I walked through the market as it was setting up on Electric Avenue in daylight, then grabbed a McDonalds breakfast and coffee before getting the bus up Brixton Hill to New Bridge office.

The last bit of my first blog is the culmination of all the previous bits. Selecting a prisoner to befriend and writing my first letter!

There were many prisoners to choose from. As advised from my training I focused on common hobbies and interests, length of confinement, and offence, compiling a short list of four in order of precedence. I got my second choice which could have just as easily have been designated my first, so was not disappointed. In my first letter I drew upon all the best bits of the example first letters seen at my training. I managed to keep it concise (one page of A4) focusing on identifying with the prisoner through their hobbies and interests. I also stated my aims in being a bridge between them and the outside world, supporting them and being led by them in our correspondence. Given that my prisoner had mentioned he had excellent IT skills I said that emails were always an option, but that I hoped that letters would be our primary source of contact, being more personal in my view.

My first letter was sent to the prisoner on 5th April 2024. They were sentenced to ten years in early 2023 and applied to New Bridge in early 2024. They have just been advised by New Bridge that a befriender has been allocated. I am aware that things move slowly in our prison system. Currently I am trying to visualise my prisoner’s circumstances. I am watching the approach of my postman daily. I really hope that my prisoner feels able to respond and very much look forward to building a meaningful supportive relationship with them and that we are not strangers for too long.

Thank you for reading my first blog post."

May 2024

If Trevor has inspired you to think about befrienfing then you can find out more here:


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